Recruiters! It takes more than raw aggression and low prices!

For all my blog posts please see 'The Savage Truth'

There is one word you will always find in any analysis or even casual discussion about the recruitment industry.


Get two recruiters or more together, in any setting, and I bet that 90 % of the conversation will be about how competitive its all become and how to beat the competition.

A few years ago my office was at 275 George Street in Sydney. That building has 12 floors, and at that time it housed 14 recruitment companies! Seriously. We used to loose candidates on the way up in the elevator!

But what does competitive really mean? And if we competed effectively in the past, will the same tactics work for us going forward?

Well I first started to compete as a recruiter in Australia in January 1980. Since then I have been able to get first hand experience of what the very best our industry has had to offer in terms of
competition here and all over the world. And many of those recruiters have built superior businesses through quality service, innovation and exceeding customer expectations

…but the vast majority have not!

For almost all my recruitment life in Australia in New Zealand, as well as my exposure to the industry in the UK, Europe and Asia, “competition” for most recruiters has meant one or more of these things…

Speed: Urgency is good. It’s what clients want. But for many recruiters what “speed’ means is how quickly we can respond to requests for help from clients. And that usually leads to competition
based on how fast we can work – not on the quality of what we do. So “competition” in that case leads to shortcuts, sloppy process andoften results in unseemly resume races and squabbles over who represented candidates first. Ugly, unproductive and damaging to our reputations

Volume: This is the form of “competition “ where recruiters are being exhorted by desperate managers, totally bereft of new ideas, to do more sales calls, send out more spam, make more
unwelcome visits. And yes, activity is crucial to recruiting success, but it needs to be quality, targeted activities, not volume of intrusiveapproaches which means we actually end up competing on who can annoy our clients the most!

Price: The final competitive weapon of he or she who has nothing else to offer, resulting in the very essence of what we do as an industry being devalued in the eyes of our clients. And of course selling on price alone means our own margins are relentlessly squeezed to the point where we are all working harder and harder for less and less return – and how smart is that when you really think aboutit? Competitive pricing is key, sure. But value is the issue we should be competing on. No matter what you charge you will alwaysfind someone who will charge less. And that is a slippery slope none of us want to risk.

Aggression: Truthfully, I like the word “aggression” when it comes to business, just as I encourage my sons to be aggressiveon the rugby field. But my type of aggression is the healthy type.
Passionate, committed, loving to win more than loose. Always within the rules and never malicious. But too often recruiters think aggression means rubbishing your competition to clients and candidates, and bullying customers into decisions they don’t really want or need to make, all for the sake of closing the deal at all costs. And that is exactly the type of behavior that perpetuates the poor image our industry currently suffers with many of our customers using us begrudgingly – and in some cases with undisguised resentment.

Dishonesty: And here I am using the softest word I can think of for competition based on lying, manipulation, and withholding of information. And it’s rife in our industry and I have
commented on it more than once before (Integrity. It’s a bit like virginity. Either
you have it…or you don’t!

I can write fifty blogs highlighting outrageously deceitful behavior I have encountered from recruiters over the years, and maybe one day I will tell those tales.

But for now I guess the point is that it’s this kind of activity, that plenty of people in our industry believe “competitive” means.

Many of us in recruitment today are like pin-balls in a pin-ball machine. We bounce around without pattern desperately trying to hit the jackpot.

We are not sure we have the tools to compete, so we live in fear of every new development and then we try to copy it or do it faster or do it cheaper. But those old tactics are no longer working. In fact they are sending many of us out of business. Please note, “competing” does not mean copying.

So how do we thrive in a competitive world?

Well, stay tuned to next week’s blog entry where I will try and pin some of that down.

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